According to botanists, the fava bean is originally from North Africa. The Chinese ate them more than 5,000 years ago. They were grown by the Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans: crushed and cooked, they were often a substitute for bread. Roman gladiators ate them before going out into the arena because they gave them strength. But they were also cooked in other ways. In De Re Coquineria, Apicius provides recipes for fava beans cooked in their pods, or shelled and crushed, and even fried.
Fava beans also served as a ballot for the Ancient Greeks, and for the Romans when choosing the king of the Saturnalia banquet: this is the origin of the custom of placing a fève (originally a fava bean, now a small figurine) inside the galette des Rois (Three Kings' cake).
It was the main legume consumed in Europe until the 16th century, and it was unknown in the Americas. An exchange would later take place: after the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, the fava bean was introduced into South America, where it is still grown, while the Spaniards brought back the navy bean, which would displace the fava bean.
This occurred in cassoulet, which until the 16th century was made using dried fava beans.
The pods should be green and firm, without blemishes; the beans should be firm to the touch.
The less voluminous the pods, the smaller the beans.
Fresh: depending on the season, by weight and in their pods.
Frozen: loose beans, shelled immediately after picking.
Dried: loose beans, by weight or packed.
Flour, made from dried beans.
China, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Australia are the largest producers of fava beans. Spain is the main European producer.
In France, fava beans are grown all over the south and in Corsica.
After shelling, fava beans need to be peeled. This is done by immersing them in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes, draining them, then squeezing the bean with your fingers. They pop out easily from their case.
Fava beans are made into soups and stews, and sauteed or pureed.
Baby fava beans do not need peeling, and can be eaten raw, in salads or just salted. Their tender pods are used in soup in equal proportions with the beans.
Dried fava beans should be soaked for at least 12 hours before a lengthy boiling.
Fava bean flour is added to wheat and/or rye flour to make bread (a 2% maximum content is authorized in France).
In Spain, fava beans are the base of fabada, a dish similar to cassoulet, with the addition of blood sausage, chorizo, pork shoulder, and cabbage. There are a large number of traditional fava bean dishes throughout the Middle East: Foul (puree mixed with olives and parsley), Foul Medammas (stew with onions and parsley), Bissara (puree aromatized with cumin), Falafels (fava bean puree croquettes), etc. They are also often used as a garnish for couscous.
Fresh beans: in their pods in a cool room or refrigerator at 3–5ºC for up to 4–5 days.
Dried: in a dry place away from light.
Fava beans are high in protein, carbohydrates, and fiber.
They contain minerals and B group vitamins (especially B9) and, when fresh, vitamin C.
They have long had a poor nutritional reputation. This is because of favism, an extremely rare metabolic condition caused by the absence of an enzyme required by the body to assimilate carbohydrates, with which the beans bear no relation except for the similarity of its name. Also, it seems that in the past certain varieties of fava beans were poisonous. Obviously, those varieties are no longer sold.
There are more than one hundred varieties of fava bean. The most common varieties in Europe are:
. Muchamiel, grown in Spain, is a very early variety with light green pods containing 5–6 white beans.
. Seville Longpod is an early variety with very long pods of 20–30 cm enclosing 6 white beans.
. Précoce d’Aquitaine is a very early variety with smaller pods. This is the best variety for eating raw.
. Aquadulce: semi-early, the most widespread variety, with very long pods containing 8–9 beans. This is the forerunner of the Driemaal vit, a late variety that is mainly grown in the Netherlands, and Ite Beryl, grown in France: their pods contain 4 thin beans that remain white when cooked.
Fava beans are available in March through October.
Baby fava beans are picked before they are fully ripe. They are available mid-February through mid-June. Their pods are pale green, and the small beans have a more bitter taste with a fine and tender texture.